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Former Undergraduate Fellows Carry Forward the Work they Began at WHRY

June 21, 2021

Students participate in Women’s Health Research at Yale’s Undergraduate Fellowship for one and sometimes two years. But even after graduation, we are thrilled that they stay in touch with us and that their experience with WHRY continues to shape their careers.

Here is a look at what five of our former students are doing now and how they are carrying forward the work they began with WHRY.

Ben Fait, ’17

As a WHRY fellow, Ben Fait worked as part of our communications team in developing public health videos and scientific essays for a general audience. Currently in his third year of a Ph.D. program at Rockefeller University in New York City focusing on uncovering how spinal cord injuries lead to loss of movement, he now writes, as a scientist, about the value of researchers speaking directly to the public about science.

In January, Ben co-authored a paper published in the online journal Science and Diplomacy on the importance of building a more demographically representative scientific workforce. He makes the point that scientists must be ready to engage with and earn the trust of the public and to counter widespread misinformation of the type that has damaged efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This journal is read by those who are in charge of educational policy and oversee the experience of students who are interested in science policy,” he said. “We can help make a change in the way students of science are trained by helping each other become more comfortable with and committed to talking with the community about our work.”

In the article, he listed his impressive credentials, including his time as a Fulbright Researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, as well as identifying himself as a former WHRY fellow, a meaningful acknowledgment shared with us here at WHRY.

“Working with WHRY was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I always bring up the need to study sex and gender in seminars I attend and in conversations with colleagues.”

Suyeon (Sue) Hong, ’20

In her first of two years with WHRY, Suyeon Hong became the second student to author the student blog, “Why Didn’t I Know This?” (now published on the WHRY website). After sharing her research and insights into significant issues facing the health of women, including her own drawings to illustrate the concepts expressed in the blog, she then shifted in her second year to advancing the center’s project of integrating research findings on the impact of sex and gender into the medical school’s curriculum.

Her significant contributions to these efforts mirrored the quality of her academic work as reflected in earning the Pauli Murray College Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Academics. In her gap year after graduation, Sue continued at Yale, working in the Department of Psychiatry with Dr. Kimberly Yonkers and Dr. Ariadna Forray on a project investigating two models of support in treating pregnant women who have an opioid use disorder.

This spring, she was accepted to attend Yale School of Medicine. On her application, she described WHRY as one of her most meaningful college experiences.

“WHRY has shaped my view of medical research and how there are not enough data on sex-and-gender differences,” she said. “That’s something I would want to work toward correcting, in whatever specialty I’m in.”

Devyn Rigsby, ’19

As a WHRY fellow three years ago, Devyn Rigsby learned firsthand what it was like to care for women with cardiovascular disease under the mentorship of cardiologist Dr. Lisa Freed. After graduating from Yale with highest honors, Devyn spent a gap year working at a global health nonprofit organization specializing in sustainability of international aid programs. In this position, she led two research projects, financed by the Gates Foundation and the Global Fund, focusing on building middle-income countries’ domestic capacity to fund and manage their national family planning and HIV programs. Through her work, she interacted with stakeholders on all inhabited continents and traveled to five countries.

Devyn continues to follow her passion for global women’s health as a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she began her studies last year. She serves as a student coordinator at her school’s free clinic for refugee women, providing reproductive health screening and counseling to newly resettled female refugees.

She is quick to raise the need to consider sex-and-gender differences in medical education and practice, and she values the examples set for her at WHRY in her work with Dr. Freed and WHRY Director Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D.

“The relationships I had with Dr. Freed and Dr. Mazure were invaluable,” she said. “Seeing those individuals succeed in their fields showed me how science and medicine by women and for women can be done and done very well.”

Anjali Walia, ’21

As a WHRY fellow, Anjali focused on health communications and expanding the readership of the WHRY student blog. At the outset of the pandemic, she also published an op-ed in The Hartford Courant, drawing on research from past viral outbreaks to stress the need for understanding how the new coronavirus affects women and men differently.

Starting in August of this year, Anjali will attend the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, seeking to build upon the foundational interests she cultivated working with WHRY and The Reproductive Justice Action League at Yale College.

“Physicians have such a unique political voice, and I want to effect change as widely as possible,” she said. “Not just through practicing medicine, but advocacy work and research.”

When interviewing with medical schools, she often highlighted her work at WHRY.

“I would talk about how I became aware of the need to better understand and share knowledge about sex-and-gender differences in health,” she said. “As I move forward in my education and career, I definitely want to build upon the work I did and ensure that, as a physician, I both attend to and advocate for my patients’ needs.”

Dhiksha Balaji, ’18

Dhiksha Balaji, who launched WHRY’s popular student blog, aims to pursue not just medicine, but advocacy, writing, and research — with the understanding that the health of women as well as the sex-and-gender differences in health must be considered.

As Dhiksha finishes her second year at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, she wants to keep her focus on the need to study and use what she knows about sex-and-gender differences in health.

“Recently, I reached out to Dr. Mazure because I felt I was missing a piece of medicine that I want to be part of my future clinical thinking,” she said. “She very kindly sent me current research articles and names of prominent scientists who are advancing the field and whose work I could follow.”

Dhiksha said the fellowship introduced her to many aspects of health and medicine she had never encountered in her classes as a pre-med student or in the media.

“Dr. Mazure and the rest of the team helped me meld my passions with WHRY’s work,” she said. “I can say unreservedly that the fellowship was a highlight of my Yale experience.”

Submitted by Rick Harrison on June 10, 2021